What's next from the people who invented the PC?

Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center is known for its almost eerie capability to be working on what's next before most other companies can see it. CTO Sophie Vandebroek needs to keep that happening.

Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center is a legendary and often misunderstood place. Once Xerox's outpost in Silicon Valley, it's now a separate company within Xerox, and it focuses on applied R&D. PARC is where you'll find the beginnings of the personal computer, LAN, voice command, and laser printing. Today its work branches far beyond computing, with a strong emphasis on ethnography, the study of what people do and how they do it.

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I'd met Xerox CTO Sophie Vandebroek before, but was curious to see how things were going on this 10th anniversary of the PARC spinoff. Vandebroek hasn't lost her endless energy and enthusiasm for big new ideas, especially when walking the halls at PARC where we spent our time talking about how it is re-imagining everyday experiences from the nurse-patient interface to the process of parking a car.

HP, PARC, and SRI are all clustered around Stanford University and growing up among them, in the burgeoning years of modern computing, I knew they were something special. They were amazing places, quite different from today's startups, employing armies of engineers, with big scale in their DNA from the start and occupying sleek, almost mythical hilltop campuses on wooded hilltops. HP has changed a lot, but SRI hangs on to a lot of that DNA, and PARC understands the hard work of reinvention that is needed for the next major era of technology innovation. That era takes the machine out of the center and refocuses on people, with data, algorithm, and connectivity serving us from all directions. It's taken a long time to get here, and PARC, arguably, got us started.

About the author

Brian Cooley joined CNET in 1995 and always comes at technology from the real consumer's point of view. He brings his high energy, often skeptical style to all avenues of CNET coverage, with an emphasis on car tech. You'll also find him frequently on television, radio and the TV screens at Costco!

 

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